Epiousios: The Mysterious Greek Word in the Lord’s Prayer

This post is not the same one I originally intended. Several days ago I thought a nice subject to write about would be the history of the Lord’s Prayer (also known as the “Our Father”). It does have some interesting history, as we can trace its origin directly to scripture in the books of Matthew and Luke with various translations to Latin and then to the English version I say every day. Here’s the version I’m most familiar with:

Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

When going through the background research on the prayer, the sixth line bore very interesting fruit – enough to consume several hours worth of research and change the course of this post. The line causing such a digression is Give us this day our daily bread, and I have come to conclude this line contains one of the most important words in Catholic apologetics: daily.

Our Daily Bread?

The word daily is the commonly cited translation of a mysterious Greek word epiousios – a word nowhere written down before in any Greek literature yet entertaining many possible etymologies. This marks it immediately as a word deserving disproportional attention in its translation. The word’s translation to daily relies upon the interpretation of epi- as “for” and ousia as meaning something to the effect of “for the being” with an implicit context of the current day. [1] This interpretation was used in the famous King James Version, the Tyndale Bible, and a majority of English Bibles today [2]. Latin works by early Tertullian of Carthage (155-240 AD) and the Vetus Latina (or “Old Latin”) Bible translations also used this interpretation of epiousios [3]. Similar translations include “bread for today”, “bread for the day”, and other such minor variations [4],[5].Other etymologies hinge on a speculated link between known Greek word epiouse found in the book of Acts meaning “the next” and our mysterious word epiousios, with some suggesting the former is a feminized version of epiousios [6,7].

Nonetheless, the daily interpretation is by far the most commonly printed English translation despite reasonable evidence as to its inadequacy. The strongest argument against “daily” as correct is the fact that every other reference to “daily” is written as hemeran (ἡμέραν, “the day”) in the Greek texts [8-18]. It would be odd that, given a readily available and common Greek word for “daily”, the Gospel authors would choose a completely esoteric form of the word in this one instance without good reason. Lastly, a translation of epiousios to “daily” is clearly (yet incredibly easy to go unnoticed) redundant in the line Give us this day our daily bread. To satisfy those who may simply explain away this redundancy as merely accidental or the result of a habit of speech, consider that this word epiousios is the only non-possessive adjective in the entire prayer. Then, recall again, this word epiousios has never been found elsewhere in Greek literature. Most of us do not use obtuse language when we speak to others nor when we pray, except for some older English words such as “thy” and “art” (as we say in the Lord’s Prayer). The early Christians likely did not haphazardly include a word never once recorded before in Greek to our knowledge. Whatever word he said in Aramaic, the earliest Greek-speaking Christians must have recognized the uniqueness of the word to justify giving it a unique Greek translation.

Super Substantial Bread?

Now, we come to the part where my Catholic readers and my Protestant readers will have quite different emotions upon the remainder of this article. This is because, the most plausible translation of the the word epiousios is something that Catholics will recognize immediately as the Eucharist – the “summit and source of Christian life”, the literal body of blood of Jesus Christ.

Now, to my Protestant brothers and sisters – fear not. I am not pulling a fast one on you with the goal of a converting you to the Catholic faith; I am merely pulling apart the translation of a word that has gone under the radar far too long to the utmost scrutiny that I can muster. Again, when I set out to research the journey of the Lord’s Prayer through its various translations from its first recordings in the Gospel to today, I did not expect to find any reference to the Eucharist at all. The most plausible translation among scholars points in this direction, so that is the direction I followed. Nonetheless, I will help my Protestant brothers and sisters (for I was once among you) out of the conundrum you may find yourselves in momentarily by pointing out that the definitive understanding of the translation is still disputed. I simply encourage you to consider where you place your bets based on the evidence. Furthermore, there are a few similar yet “un-Catholicized” interpretations that you may find rest your mind on the matter, though I find they still point the compass toward Rome.

Another breakdown of the mysterious Greek word renders epi– as “super” and ousia as “substance”, which the early Christian scholar Jerome of Stridon (342- 420 AD) put together to form “super-substantial” in the Latin Vulgate, which brings to mind the Catholic belief in transubstantiation. The Catholic Church has since rendered the translation similarly as “super-essential” in Latin and regards it as the most literal possible translation of epiousios. One of the major advantages this interpretation has over the “daily” interpretation is its support by a majority of early Christian scholars, including Augustine (the famous author of Confessions – a must-read in the study of philosophy and Christianity), Cyril of Jerusalem, Cyprian of Carthage, John Cassian [19,20], and other early Church fathers [19,20,21], as well as by the Council of Trent [22]. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a summary of belief, retains this understanding of epiousios to this day. The Catechism addresses the word directly as follows [23]:

2837 “Daily” (epiousios) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Taken in a temporal sense, this word is a pedagogical repetition of “this day,” to confirm us in trust “without reservation.” Taken in the qualitative sense, it signifies what is necessary for life, and more broadly every good thing sufficient for subsistence. Taken literally (epi-ousios: “super-essential”), it refers directly to the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, the “medicine of immortality,” without which we have no life within us. Finally in this connection, its heavenly meaning is evident: “this day” is the Day of the Lord, the day of the feast of the kingdom, anticipated in the Eucharist that is already the foretaste of the kingdom to come. For this reason it is fitting for the Eucharistic liturgy to be celebrated each day.

Catholic Biblical scholars (and I suspect others as well) recognize that Biblical verses can have several simultaneous meanings, as reflected by the Catechism above. The word simultaneously holds temporal, qualitative, and literal meanings, the last of which is the interpretation I have presented today. Some may argue, the Catechism is here presenting a look at every possible interpretation, but again it also recognizes the word has been used nowhere else in scripture where other words suffice for the temporal and qualitative meanings. Thus to ignore the literal interpretation of the word in the Matthew’s recording of the Lord’s prayer is to ignore the intent of the specific usage of epiousios here. Note also the Eastern Orthodox churches hold the same opinion in the translation of epiousios as the Catholic Church.

However, there is further nuance to this story not as yet fleshed out. The Lord’s Prayer appears in both the books of Matthew and Luke. The Matthew version and the Luke versions of the Lord’s Prayer were slightly different, resulting in Jerome translating epiousios as “supersubstantial” in Matthew but as “daily” (quotidianum in Latin) in Luke. Much later, Martin Luther originally kept the interpretation as “supersubstantial” but retranslated it as “daily” later in life.

One of the leading experts on the early understanding of the Eucharist and its Jewish roots is Catholic theologian Brant Pitre, who writes in his book Jesus and the Last Supper (2015) concerning the understanding of epiousios I have presented here: “despite being widely held among ancient Christians, [the supersubstantial interpretation] receives virtually no support among modern exegetes … despite the fact that it is easily the most literal translation”[20]. I have felt a similar exasperation, not in any engagement with experts of the field, but the sheer ignorance I had regarding this part of the Lord’s Prayer, which I had been reciting since my youth. What bliss there is in learning when not looking for it, especially with things too familiar to be questioned. 

Further support of the “supersubstantial” interpretation, if you are not yet convinced, is found in fact that in the native tongues of Jesus (Aramaic and Hebrew), there is no word that translates into the Greek epiousios, thereby suggesting that the word was invented or first spoken by Jesus, his followers, and the earliest Christians. Typically, we do not invent words by mere accident; the word came about for a purpose, as it had to convey a meaning beyond that of merely “daily”: the tremendous importance that the Bread of Life would play in our relationship with Christ throughout the future ages.

Final Thoughts

Again, to my Protestant readers, you are not alone if you might disagree with the interpretation, as other Protestant and even some Catholic theologians have voiced. But, even if you dismiss what I’ve presented here, I hope it at least brings about an appreciation for just one of the legitimate reasons we Catholics believe in the Eucharist as the literal body and blood of Jesus in the first place: both tradition and modern scholarship offer good reasons to believe so. In fact, there are many more reasons; I would not even count the content of this essay as among the best evidence, though it is certainly an undervalued part. More evidence may be found in Biblical passages, the writings of the earliest Christians, and in its continuity with the Jewish Passover and Bread of the Presence found throughout the Old Testament.

The more I dig into the Bible, the early Christians, and all of Church history, the more I am intrigued. I have gone down a rabbit hole I do not regret, as I know that, personally, to study the faith is to love it all the more. Though my errors might well include “over-intellectualizing” my faith, I also know such curiosity is ultimately driven by the Holy Spirit; a desire to learn more of God is never a bad thing. 

So, the next time you are praying the Our Father, remember when you come to Give us this daily bread, that Jesus meant much more than simply the earthly food he gives us, but rather something “supersubstantial”.


[1] Brant Pitre (23 November 2015). Jesus and the Last Supper. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 172. ISBN 978-1-4674-4404-0.

[2] William Barclay (1 November 1998). The Lord’s Prayer. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-664-25815-3.

[3] Colin Brown (1975). The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Zondervan Publishing House. p. 251. ISBN 978-0-310-33230-5.

[4] “Matthew 6 – WNT – Bible Study Tools”.

[5] Craig A. Evans (6 February 2012). Matthew. Cambridge University Press. pp. 147–. ISBN 978-0-521-81214-6.

[6] https://biblehub.com/greek/1966.htm

[7] Meyer, Ben (2009). The Early Christians: Their World Mission & Self-Discovery. Eugene, Oregon, USA: Wipf and Stock. pp. 20–21. ISBN 1606083708.

[8] “Matthew 6:11 Interlinear: ‘Our appointed bread give us to-day”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/matthew/6-11.htm

[9] The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament, 1993, The United Bible Societies, (UBS4 Greek text), page x of Introduction

[10] “Matthew 20:2 Interlinear: and having agreed with the workmen for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/matthew/20-2.htm

[11] “Luke 9:23 Interlinear: And he said unto all, ‘If any one doth will to come after me, let him disown himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me;”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/luke/9-23.htm

[12] “Acts 6:1 Interlinear: And in these days, the disciples multiplying, there came a murmuring of the Hellenists at the Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily ministration”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/6-1.htm

[13] “Acts 17:11 Interlinear: and these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, they received the word with all readiness of mind, every day examining the Writings whether those things were so;”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/17-11.htm

[14] “Acts 17:17 Interlinear: therefore, indeed, he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the worshipping persons, and in the market-place every day with those who met with him”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/17-17.htm

[15] “Acts 19:9 Interlinear: and when certain were hardened and were disbelieving, speaking evil of the way before the multitude, having departed from them, he did separate the disciples, every day reasoning in the school of a certain Tyrannus”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/19-9.htm

[16] “2 Corinthians 11:28 Interlinear: apart from the things without — the crowding upon me that is daily — the care of all the assemblies”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/2_corinthians/11-28.htm

[17] “Hebrews 3:13 Interlinear: but exhort ye one another every day, while the To-day is called, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of the sin”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/hebrews/3-13.htm

[18] “Hebrews 10:11 Interlinear: and every priest, indeed, hath stood daily serving, and the same sacrifices many times offering, that are never able to take away sins”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/hebrews/10-11.htm

[19] Nicholas Ayo (2002). The Lord’s Prayer: A Survey Theological and Literary. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 59–. ISBN 978-0-7425-1453-9.Get the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Lords-Prayer-Survey-Theological-Literary/dp/0268012911/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+lord%27s+prayer%3A+a+survey+theological+and+literary&qid=1586829645&s=books&sr=1-1

[20] Brant Pitre (23 November 2015). Jesus and the Last Supper. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 159–. ISBN 978-1-4674-4404-0.Get the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Last-Supper-Brant-Pitre/dp/0802875335

[21] Ratzinger, Joseph (2007). Jesus of Nazareth. Doubleday. p. 154. ISBN 978-1-58617-198-8.Get the book: https://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Bendict-Ratzinger-Jesus-Nazareth/dp/B00RWSH18W/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=978-1-58617-198-8+isbn&qid=1586829760&s=books&sr=1-1

[22] Trent, Session 13, Chapter VIIIhttps://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct13.html” with such piety and worship as to be able frequently to receive that supersubstantial bread, and that it may be to them truly the life of the soul, and the perpetual health of their mind”

[23] 2837 in “Catechism of the Catholic Church – The seven petitions”. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p4s2a3.htm. Retrieved 7 April 2020

[24] General reading from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiousios

Published by Christian Poole

Catholic | Father | Husband | Founder of ThinkingWest .com

10 thoughts on “Epiousios: The Mysterious Greek Word in the Lord’s Prayer

  1. Great article, Christian. I often pray this prayer when I don’t know what to pray or simply to prepare for me for my day because it sums up everything we nee. And isn’t interesting that Jesus made said, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” after having been led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where Satan tempted Him. He is pray with heart for us, and by experience. I trust His leading in prayer. Loved this article.
    Stay safe and well. God loves you!
    Oh and I have nominated you for the Mystery Blogger Award. Please do not feel obligated to participate. Let me know if you do so I can read it. Take all the time you need. God believes in you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So this word ‘supersubstantial’ I had come across a few times previously; determined to probe more deeply I came upon your thorough and most helpful clarification. It certainly makes sense to this former Catholic: there had to be something more to the word. I’d never reflected on the tautological ‘day/daily’ before, either.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There is a convincing body of evidence which shows the likelihood of early Christians, like other mystics throughout the ages, moving toward their understanding of God with the help of psychedelic mushrooms. Any open-minded person would have to consider the possibility that “supersubstantial bread” means a type of food which does more for you than other foods. And mushrooms spring forth daily, adding further credence to this interpretation of the “epiousion” line.


  4. I know Latin and ancient Greek fairly well and I have to point out that epi- has a whole range of uses, not just the two choices between “for” and “super”. Some of its most common compound adjectives include epagogos = attractive (driven-upon), epeteios = yearly (for-the year), epelys (foregn = come-to), epiboulos = treacherous (plotting-against), epigonos = offspring, successor (born-upon/after), epidemios = popular (upon-the people), epieikes = reasonable (to-the likelihood), epikouros = ally, bodyguard (boy-next to). And so on. You see, epi- can be translated as to, upon, next to, after, in addition, for, etc, and sometimes just as an intensive. Translation of epi is futile, especially in Latin and English, but its idea is universal and clear to all Greek speakers in each individual compound: motion toward, touching upon, purpose.

    Ancienct speakers of Greek reacted to neologism the same way we react to newly coined English words. We associate it with words we already know, and understand it in the context in which it’s used. What’s clear is that there was an Aramaic word used by Jesus, and one of his followers decided the word had no proper equivalent in contemporary Greek, a new word had to be created to represent its uniqueness, and the word had to roll off the tongue and be as easily understood in context as “froyo”. Clearly, this word was immediately and widely impressed upon the first Greek speaking Christians, to the extent that the writers of Matthew and Luke used the same word, depsite being from different times and locations and having slightly different texts of the prayer.

    Literally, “upon-the being” is the closest one can get in English, but what it means is the problem. There were not two, but at least a dozen of theories among ancient Christians. So first, I’ll say your positioing this as a choice between Catholicism and Protestanism is misleading and counterproductive.

    Another problem comes from following Jerome’s two Latin translations. If “upon-the being” means “for the time being”, Jerome’s “cotidianum” (=daily) fails because the Latin implies something routine, everyday, regular, in addition to being repetitive with “hodie” (=this day). It missed the idea of “temporary”. If it means “for the subsistance”, Jerome mistranslated or grossly oversimplified. If it means “super-substantial”, Jerome’s “superstantialem” is clunky. I’m not saying Jerome was incompetent. He was faced with an impossible task: something that’s lost in translation in Latin.

    I’m not saying I know Greek any better than Jerome, Origen, Cyprian of Carthage, or any of the great modern scholars who’ve published on the subject. I’m saying we’re dealing with a translation of a translation of a translation. Perhaps it’s best to reserve a bit of humility and admit the impossiblity. Intead of pursuing a translation, maybe it’s best to ask what an ancient Greek speaker must have felt it to mean. As is often the case in modern times, coinage can contain a double entendre, a mystique, an ambiguity. A streamlined translation may just be the perfect way to ruin the purpose of the original coinage of epiousios.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment V Y; I appreciate your comments and critique. And to be quite honest, I have looked back on this article from time to time with a little regret, in that in its writing I feel I wrote it in somewhat more of a “passion” than it maybe warrants. In other words, I think I came off a bit strong. And, I hope I was fairly transparent that I believe a different, less ambiguous word was used in another Gospel version of the Lord’s prayer. I admittedly would not use my writing here in an apologetic sense (though while writing the article, I may have felt so), but more of a interesting curiosity that reflects the early Catholic interpretation of the “daily bread”. I agree the answer to its exact interpretation will never be answered definitively. But to my defense, I was so surprised that the ambiguity in the translation of the Lord’s prayer was never impressed upon me, though I have known the prayer nearly all my life. It was a great surprise to learn about this interpretation by Jerome, and how little attention (or scrutiny) it has received in wider Christianity.


  5. What a delightful surprise to discover this new yet older meaning of the word “epiousios” ( but I see it written “epiousion”…?).
    It gives such a deeper meaning to our Catholic faith that I had never imagined. “Give us this day our Holy Eucharist…”, our union with Christ, and this instruction is given by the Lord Himself! (And I am not even a pious Catholic.)
    But unfortunately I have also found that many questions of dogma that seem perplexing today were actually debated and resolved by the early Church Fathers. Why these aren’t mentioned in sermons or catechesis I don’t know. It would help resolve so many crises of faith that modern people have. It can take decades of self study just to uncover what the early Christians already knew. Most of us ordimary people can’t read Greek or Latin much less Aramaic. So thank you for your diligence and sharing. This new translation/interpretation is a beautiful insight.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. There is no historical reason to believe that Jesus ever used the non-existent Greek word “epiousios.” Yes, Jesus was trilingual. Both biblical and non-biblical sources confirm that Jesus was fairly fluent in Hebrew, Koine Greek and Aramaic. But he was most comfortable speaking Aramaic and that was the first century lingua franca in which he would teach and preach. When Jesus delivered what has come to be known today as the Sermon on the Mount — the sermon in which he introduced the nascent Christian religion to The Lord’s Prayer — biblical scholars agree that Jesus was speaking Aramaic to the crowd. The most likely explanation for the ambiguity in translation is that the earliest version of the New Testament (minus several books) was written in Aramaic, not Greek. Decades later, when a conscious effort was made to translate the vernacular Aramaic New Testament into the more academic language of Greek, the writer(s) was baffled by the Aramaic word and struggled to choose the correct Greek counterpart. Unable to find a suitable Greek word, the translator(s) created a “neolexicon.” This is a fancy way of saying he made up a new word from whole cloth. As a result, biblical scholars throughout the ages have argued about the true meaning because — until the moment it was invented — there was no meaning. In a very real sense, epiousios is not a real Greek word at all. That is precisely why the word cannot be found in any other Greek document. To suggest that the made up word epiousios refers to the Eucharist is disingenuous. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount obviously predates the Last Supper. Therefore, there was not yet any eucharistic tradition for Jesus to reference. Instead of struggling to discern the meaning of the made up word epiousios, biblical scholars should focus their collective efforts on the meaning of the original Aramaic words that Jesus actually used.


    1. I think it would be fair to say that Jesus the man had an idea as to his long term plan of replacing elaborate temple sacrifice with a simpler homey version. And Jesus as Christ, second person of the Trinity, definitely knew all long term meaning and consequences of his speech and actions.

      On another line of argument, Biblical commentary supports 3 levels of interpretation of events: simple, extended, and allegorical. I am not a scholar but I welcome this line of interpretation because it adds so much depth of meaning to our Catholic faith’s already declared fundamentals of faith. To deny it is to say, Jesus didn’t know, as all-knowing God, what he was doing. I refer to John 1:1-3.


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